Sunday, March 1, 2015

First computer in the Cincinnati - Tri-state and Midwest region

Cincinnati Enquirer Sunday, March 29, 1953 Giant Electronic "Brain" Slated For City by Jack Dudley (It would be another 5 years before UC obtained its first computer.)

The opening sentence says "Cincinnati goes on the map scientifically in May." The computer was an IBM 701 and was number 6 of 19 originally built. The monthly rental back then was ~$17,000. According to the IBM website -- -- the computer was delivered on May 27. Dr. Herb Grosch was the first computer director at the GE-Evendale Aircraft Engines facility. Dr. Donald Shell (a UC alumni and developer of the Shell sort computer routine) spent most of his career at GE-Evendale and worked for Dr. Grosch. This was the most powerful commercial computer in the entire mid-west at the time. Dr. Grosch was quoted as saying that "our whole technicalogical civilization will be guided by this type of of machine which will be doing the detail or dog work."

William Bell wrote about the computer's usage here in a book entitled "A Management Guide to Electronic Computers", McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1957 (found on the web through Google books). He writes about using the computer to help in production-shop scheduling and operations research (UC's Lindner College of Business excels in this area). Stanley Rothman was mentioned as being the supervisor of the operations research unit the GE-Evendale.

Cincinnati Enquirer, Sunday, March 29, 1953 Article

Ronald Reagan and Dr. Herb Grosch from William Bell's book. Reagan was then working for the GE Theater radio and TV show.

GE-Evendale -- Computation Lab; this building is still in existence today; photo from William Bell's book

The grandfather of ET and the father of the modern Point-of-Sale system

Arnold Spielberg (interviewed Oct 10, 2006 in San Francisco during GE Computer Department Alumni gathering)

Arnold Spielberg graduated from Hughes High School which cross the street from UC at the southwest corner and located on Clifton Avenue where Calhoun and McMillan meet Clifton. I taught at Hughes first as substitute teacher and then for 1-year as a regular teacher while I worked on my master’s degree in education at UC. Arnold Spielberg has given several interviews over the years, but none of them have ever been done by someone who is from Cincinnati. 

When he talked about Cincinnati, I was able to relate and when he mentioned the Hughes vs Roger Bacon football rivalry, he noticed I was particularly interested because I went to Roger Bacon. If you want to learn more about what he did outside of his Cincinnati time see a list of interviews below. I will focus on his time in Cincinnati and at UC. His first wife, Leah Posner, graduated from Walnut Hills High School and so did his brother Russell. They were high school classmates of Viola Woodward who also graduated from UC and did computer programming on the ENIAC (see UC’s first computer geek).
Arnold Spielberg was born on February 6, 1917 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He attended Avondale Public School and then Hughes High School (1930-34). At Hughes he won an award for his science ability, but his overall GPA was not good enough to get a college scholarship. His parents were not well-to-do and his father had been sick at the time so he had to go to work. The summer between his junior and senior year in high school he work in Cynthiana, KY, which is a small town north of Lexington. His cousins had a small department store there. After graduating he went back down there and work for a total of seven years until 1941 when World War II started.

At Hughes he discovered his love for math and science. He also took Spanish, architectural drawing, and drafting. In those days, there was a boys’ homeroom and girls’ homeroom. Oatis Gates was the head of the homeroom who was well-liked by the students. He worked out with the gymnastic team and learn how to do tricks on the horizontal bar and other apparatus. He built up his upper body strength even built a horizontal bar for use when he lived in Kentucky. Two of his friends, Sid Patterson and Roger Walby(?), were the co-captains of the football team. Their chief rival was Roger Bacon and Hughes beat RB his senior year he told me with a satisfying smile. He went back to Hughes on two different occasions for his class reunion.

He was friends with Jake Schott (class of 1933) who was also a ham radio operator and later went on to become the Chief of Police in Cincinnati. He (treasurer) and Jake formed the radio club. Withrow High School had a glider club (a secondary glider that was towed the entire time) and the two schools did a project together were they put a receiver in one of the gliders to see if they could communicate with it. This experiment helped him later when he was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton. He learned how to shoot using a rifle that he borrowed from Jake. Later, Arnold bought a used Steven’s Walnut Hill Single Shot 22 Caliber rifle from an old hunter in Cynthiana which he had recently given to his son, Steven. This is the gun his son first had learned how to shot.

Arnold was also a ham radio operator (call sign of W8IDX) using a system he had built himself. He was more interested in electronics than working at his cousins’ department store. He had to change his call sign while living in Kentucky to W9AUM (Always Under Modulated). He also built a phone transmitter during that time. He learned the department store business which paid later in his life. He went from stock-boy to assistant manager. In 1940 he was transferred to a store in Richmond, KY where he served as a co-manager. He learned a lot about managing a business, skills that would serve him well later in life.

At the onset of WWII, he decided to enlist since he knew he would have been drafted anyway so he joined the Army Signal Corp. He enlisted at Fort Thomas, KY and after a week he was sent to Louisville and later to New Orleans at New Orleans Army-Air Force Base and the 422nd Signal Company. Part of his responsibilities was to teach Morse code to the new recruits who did not seem very interested in learning any of that until he started telling “dirty” stories and then suddenly their learning shot up. In May of 1942 he was sent off to what was then Karachi, India (now Pakistan) zigging and zagging on the way there. This was at the height of the German submarine attacks something that another UC Bearcat, Dr. Paul Herget, had a hand in preventing.

When he came back to the United States, he was stationed at Wright Field where his brother was also stationed. He was a master sergeant working on designing a radio receiver to help guide a bomb. He knew he wanted to engineer after his experiences in the war and his work at Wright. He did his freshman and sophomore years in one year. Keep in mind that he was an older student having graduated from high school in 1934 and after having served in the war he was quite mature. He and Leah were also married. They lived in Avondale in a two-family house. He would walk to UC or take the street car.

One of his professors was Dr. William Osterbrock whom he almost electrocuted by accident while tuning an amateur radio set. He did quite well at UC and was recognized for his academics and was elected to Eta Kappa Nu International Electrical and Computer Engineering Honor Society of the IEEE his pre-junior year, Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society his junior year, and he won an electric engineering award. One of his co-ops was at the former Crosley Corporation. He did his senior thesis with Henry Federlin entitled “A General Purpose RF Sweep Signal Generator”. Arnold described Henry as an expert machinist and a “straight forward guy”. I was able to obtain a copy of this thesis thanks to Henry’s wife.

Mr. Spielberg was recognized by the IEEE in 2006 as a Computing Pioneer for his work on developing a computerized Point of Sale System while working for RCA. The system was tested in Cleveland, Ohio at the former Higbee's Department Store. Higbee’s was made famous in the movie “A Christmas Story” and now is the site of the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland. This citation reads “For recognition of contribution to real-time data acquisition and recording that significantly contributed to the definition of modern feedback and control processes.” Mr. Spielberg went on to work at General Electric where he developed some of their first computers and later for IBM, Scientific Data Systems, and ended his computing career with Burroughs Corp (which became Unisys).

An interview with Arnold Spielberg conducted by Anne Frantilla on June 23, 1987 at Mission Viejo, CA, Charles Babbage Institute Center for the History of Information Processing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

An interview with Arnold Spielberg for the Rutgers Oral History Archives conducted by Sandra Stewart Holyoak and Shaun Illingworth, New Brunswick, NJ on May 12, 2006.

I also have copies of an audio interview that was done in March, 1988, but I am not sure who did the actual interview.

While at the GE Computer Department Alumni symposium in 2006, I met another UC Bearcat who also worked for GE and helped start the time-share industry in the 1960s. His name was Gerry Haller.

Arnold Meyer Spielberg and Henry Max Federlin, 1949; this picture was in their Senior Thesis paper

Arnold Spielber, 2006

Gerry Haller and Arnold Spielberg

Second from left is Arnold Spielberg, next to him is Charlie Bachman, 5th from left is Gerry Haller

Saturday, February 21, 2015

UC’s first computer geek

Viola Woodward (interviewed Feb 28, 2006 (phone) and again on Aug 1, 2007 at her residence)
Viola Woodward graduated from Walnut Hills High School (7-12 grades). Her parents were from Bond Hill which was a small community outside of Cincinnati (now part of the city). She was born in 1920.

Her father did not qualify for military service during WWI because of his eyes. He was an auditor and traffic manager and a member of Ohio state bar, but never practiced law. He worked for Tool and Steel in Elmwood. Her mother was a very good pianist. They lived across the street from the Bond Hill Elementary school. She went to Walnut Hills High School right after the school moved to its current location.

She had 3 siblings – 2 younger twin brothers (Stanley and George) and an older sister (Shirley). All of them were in the service during WWII. In her interview, she spent a fair amount time talking about her family particularly her brothers Stanley and George who was a doctor. Both brothers were also in the Air Force. Shirley has 4 children. Shirley worked in the keypunch department at Aberdeen.

She sang in the choir at Walnut Hills and continued singing in choirs her whole life. She was a very good bridge player as well. She was in a sorority and sang in the glee club at UC. UC was known as the streetcar college back then. Some of her classmates at Walnut Hills were Russ Spielberg, Steven Spielberg’s uncle, Leah Posner (Spielberg), Steven Spielberg’s mother, and Everett Yowell’s, Betsy, who was also a sorority sister at UC.

At UC started out planning to be a teacher, but soon discovered that was not her vocation. She earned her BS in Math in 1942 and her Teaching Certificate in 1943. At UC she was a liberal arts major with a concentration in math. There were only 2 other students in her class. At the end of her senior year she had to take a 3-day comprehensive exam in order to be granted her math degree. One of her classmates was Dave Lipsich who went on to become the head of the Math Department at UC. He passed away in 2012. Everett Yowell was another of her classmates.

She stayed one year after she graduated working on her teaching certificate. She taught math at Withrow for one year and then got a job teaching in Mason. Back then Mason had K-12 all in one school building and she taught 7-12 and was in charge of the school play. She quickly determined that she did not want to be a teacher and so her she joined the Navy during WWII. After her service was finished, she went to Stanford University where she completed her master’s in mathematics.

She did some work using the Marchant calculators (one of these calculators is on display at the Cincinnati Observatory). In order to get a master’s she was required to have a working knowledge in French and German. She knew French already and picked up German relatively quickly. Computers came just in time for her as she was not really sure what she was going to do after graduation.

At the urging of one of her professors from Stanford who told her that the ENIAC was being moved from the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in December, 1947, she applied for a job there and was hired. At Aberdeen, she recalled the young GIs who worked for her always wanting to know her age. She would joke with them that she planned on living until 125 and that she had a long way to go. She really was not that much older than them.

She helped form a choral group (I believe it was the Aberdeen Coral Society) because of her love of singing. This group sang with the Baltimore Symphony on a regular basis. The group celebrated its 50th anniversary around 2005. She sang the first 28 years of its existence.

She programmed on the ENIAC from 1947-48. The ENIAC was designed by John William Mauchly (whose father graduated from UC) and J. Presper Eckert. The ENIAC was followed by the EDVAC. While there, she had met John Maulchy, but she said everyone referred to him as Bill which was his middle name. She met John von Neumann as well.

She learned how to compute a trajectory and then she worked with the differential analyzer. Although she began her computer career programming the ENIAC, it was soon replaced by the EDVAC and ORDVAC. The ENIAC was a decimal-based machine, but the newer computers were digital. You had to hand check the results using test cases of the ENIAC in order to be sure the program was executing correctly. It could be time consuming process, but an important one all the same.

Aberdeen brought in the ORDVAC computer which was based on the ILLIAC which was developed out of the University of Illinois. She became the head of the ORDVAC section and was a senior programmer and systems analyst.

She programmed using punched cards and paper tape. Some of the big programs had to be broken-up into sections or parts in order to complete the entire job. She eventually became the head of the ORDVAC section. People programmed music on the ORDVAC based upon the frequency of the tubes. Occasionally, someone would accidently lean against the stop button on the ORDVAC computer which cause some delays in getting jobs completed in a timely manner. In 1974 she was of only one of four who was connected with ENIAC to still be at Aberdeen.

Because the EDVAC had a lot of problems, it was not used very much. She also worked on the BRLESC (Ballistic Research Laboratories Electronic Scientific Computer) computer using the FORAST programming language. When they moved to the CDC she retired. She retired in 1978. After 30 years of computer work, it was time to leave, but she actually continued doing some consulting work for them for the next 20 years.

She fondly remembered working for Dr. Paul Deitz who was in charge of the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL). She knew Barkley Fritz who wrote a paper entitled “The Women of ENIAC”, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1996. She was a good friend of his. She also mentioned Marty Weik is the person who did the diagram of the descendants of the ENIAC poster.

She was born Aug 14, 1920 and passed away on September 30, 2010 at age 90 and was buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. A true computing pioneer.

See also -- 50 years of Army computing from ENIAC to MSRC

Thomas J. Bergin, editor; A record of a symposium and celebration, November 13 and 14, 1996, Aberdeen Proving Ground

A Bearcat who continued to dream despite it all

William Letcher (met January, 2004 in the Winter Quarter at UC)
William Letcher represents all of those who never got a chance to make a contribution to the field of computing, but just wanted to work in this field because he found it interesting. I met him sometime early in the Winter-2004 quarter. He came to my office looking for someone to advise him on what courses he needed to take in order to finish up his degree. He was from the former CECE (College of Evening and Continuing Education) in the BAGS-IT program and the OMI College of Applied Science (OCAS) had recently taken over that (and others) program. (OCAS was eventually merged with engineering to form CEAS.) I had become the academic advisor for those students from CECE.

I was working late that day. My office was next to the elevators and I noticed an older, African-American gentleman get off the elevator as I had just left my office to go to the restroom. When I came back, he was looking at my office door so I began to talk with him. He informed me that I was his advisor. William was in his middle 50s and a Vietnam veteran. He handed me a list of courses he had taken so far and was trying to plan out what he would take in the Spring Quarter.

As I was talking to him he informed that he had cancer and that he was dying. I must admit, I was not ready to hear such a statement from a stranger much less from a family member as I had lost my father less than 2-years ago from cancer. I pointed out that his children would be proud of his accomplishments. He then informed that one of his daughters had died from cancer as well. Despite all of that he told me as long as he was alive he was going to work toward his dream of getting his BS in IT. I was able to recommend a couple of courses and then he quietly left thanking me for my time. He and I talked no more than 30 minutes.

A couple of months later his wife, Marguerite, called and left a voice message that he had passed away. I did call her back and we talked for a short while. I did not erase that message until we moved over to the main campus in 2011. William had 8 more classes to go to complete his degree, but he taught me a life-long lesson. He never complained once to me about what life handed him and he remained true to his dream.

Published in The Cincinnati Enquirer on Mar. 25, 2004
LETCHER William L. Visitation Friday 10 A.M. at Greater Fellowship Baptist Church, 505 Liberty Hill, where funeral services will follow at 12 Noon. Interment Spring Grove Cemetery. Joseph R. Garr Funeral Service directing.
Date of Birth: Wednesday January 21, 1948
Date of Death: Thursday March 18, 2004

Est. Age at Death: 56 years, 1 months, 26 days 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The grandfather of the ENIAC

A lot of people in the computing field know that John William Mauchly was the one of the co-inventors of the ENIAC computer. Few know that his father Sebastian was a UC graduate or that his John was interested in attending UC because of their co-operative education which was part of the engineering education and was created by UC in 1906 by Herman Schneider, the dean of engineering.

Sebastian Mauchly taught at Woodward and Hartwell high schools and was a principal at as well. He obtained his PhD from UC in 1913 and moved his family to Maryland where he had started a job with the Carnegie Institute of Washington, to head its Section of Terrestrial Electricity. His son, John, was born in Cincinnati in 1907 (one year before Paul Herget). I believe their house was in the Carthage area. In 1928, while John was in college at John Hopkins pursing his PhD in physics, his father passed away. I am sure it was tough on him as he followed his father's footsteps in this field.

This is not the only bearcat connection to the ENIAC as another bearcat actually programmed on the ENIAC. (See UC’s first computer geek)

UC African Americans who made a difference in the field of computing (5)

Delorise Staples (interviewed July 24, 2007)
Delorise attended Woodward High School, but she finished up a 1½ credits at Hughes in the evening. She started working for UC in the late 1960s. She also attended UC’s Evening College where she obtained her associates degree and a certificate in data processing. Bob Caster, who helped start SWORCC (Southwest Ohio Regional Computer Center) and was the director, hired her. She was the first African-American fulltime hire in the data processing department where she started out as a keypunch operator. She fondly remembers Bob Caster.

She was not in keypunch for a long time when she moved over to the computer center where she became responsible for the exam grading center where students’ tests were graded using the old Scantron sheets. She was also put in charge of the I/O area where computer jobs were submitted. This center was located in the former Beecher Hall building. The I/O area was open 24 hours - 7 days a week. She worked for a fair number of supervisors including Bob Mays, Roger Doty, Carl King, Linda Nanni, Ron Flaxmeyer, and Henry Brasey. Her last boss at UC was Amin Shafie whom she enjoyed working for. He listened to her and gave her the opportunity to grow and prove just how good she really was.

She hired students from UC and Cincinnati State to work in the exam and I/O areas. While serving as a volunteer probation officer, she hired a student who had a record. She became a mentor to this young man and many others (serving as their mom at times) and helped them mature. She also interacted with a lot of the faculty including Hans Jaffe and Paul Herget. She mentioned that Dr. Herget had a tendency to say “God**** IBM”. He was the only person she ever met who could replace a punch (chad) back into the original card so that a job could finish running.

Her opinion was valued at UC and it was based upon her recommendation that UC moved to a new system for handling grading. The new system was from NCS out of Minnesota. Besides the grading system she also handled the UC stock market game which was done on punched cards back in the early days. She retired from UC in 1995 having worked here for nearly 30 years.

UC Center for IT Services (CITS) TechUpdate V21N4, Summer, 1995

UC African Americans who made a difference in the field of computing (4)

Juan Gilbert (interviewed June 28, 2007)
Juan graduated from Hamilton High School. He obtained his BS in Applied Science from Miami University in 1991 and then came to UC earning both his masters and doctorate in computer science. He was the first one in his family to complete college. His PhD focus was on Human-Computer Interaction, Expert Systems, Intelligent Tutoring Systems, Multimedia, and Knowledge Engineering. He was hired by Auburn University where he established himself as an expert in recruiting minority students into graduate computer science degrees and in expanding computing to other underrepresented groups in the computing field. He is currently a professor at Clemson University where is he the Chair of the Division of Human Centered Computing in the School of Computing.

He is very interested in the area ethnocomputing (or culturally aware computing). Another area he is researching is electronic voting systems. He has been working on such a system called Prime III which is designed to help voters with physical impairments to be part of the electoral process. He also has a passion for teaching something he learned from one of his own professors while an undergraduate at Miami University where he majored in Systems Analysis. It was this professor, Dr. David Haddad, that lite a fire in him to excel beyond what Juan had imagined he could achieve. After graduation, he came to UC where he completed his masters in 1995 and then his doctorate in 2000. He mentions three UC faculty members that played a pivotal role in his success today in going the extra mile for him: Dr. Carla Purdy, Dr. Raj Bhatnagar, and Dr. Chia Han. He is high-lighted in the “Computer Scientists of the African Diaspora” website and has been recognized by the ACM, IEEE, and quite a few other organizations for his contributions field of computing and for his work in helping young African-American computer scientists realize their dreams and potential.